Family members of incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated community organizers from the Rhode Island COVID Response: Decarcerate NOW Coalition (Coalition) rallied on Saturday at the Temple to Music in Roger Williams Park in protest of alleged abuses by correctional officers in Rhode Island prisons.
Heres the Livestream from Will James:
In a press release the Coalition writes that on March 22nd correctional officers brutally beat a man named Francisco Vega in Medium Security until he blacked out. When he regained consciousness he had been pepper sprayed and one correctional officer was positioned on his body in a way that prevented him from breathing. Mr Vega has been diagnosed with asthma and reported that he felt like he was going to die. The correctional officer eventually stopped the suffocating behavior; however, Mr Vega was left with injuries on his arms, elbows, knees, wrist and the back of his head, as well as memory loss. He received no treatment for any of these injuries and had no follow-up with a nurse or doctor after an initial visit with a nurse on the day of the incident.
Mr Vega has since been transferred to High Security and will be in solitary confinement for the next fourteen months, writes the Coalition. He has not been able to make a phone call to his wife and children.
Alexandrea Gonzalez read a statement from a family member of an incarcerated person:
“I am the voice out here for the man I love, who is currently in the ACI,” read Gonzalez. “I am here to call on Governor Dan Mckee. You need to pay attention. Things here need to be investigated. We demand the guards at the ACI be held accountable…”
After reading the statement, Gonzalez spoke about the wrongful conviction and incarceration of her ex-husband, Tony Gonzalez, who the family maintains is innocent.
“We are their voice,” said Anna Cruise, speaking about incarcerated family members, who spoke about some of the experiences of her son who was incarcerated at the Adult Correctional institutions (ACI) in Cranston.
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After a short series of speakers at the Temple to Music, there was a march to Broad Street led by What Cheer? and the Extraordinary Rendition Band.
Four incarcerated people have died in Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) custody since December 2020. Jose Franco passed in February, just weeks before his expected release. He was in good health and his family was given three different stories about his cause of death. His mother held a press conference in March and is still awaiting the results of the autopsy, for which she was forced to pay.
Mr Franco passed less than a month after Timothy McQuesten, who died in the Intake facility. At his arraignment McQuesten expressed concern that he was missing his antipsychotic medication. He was placed on crisis status, which required correctional officers to perform more regular checks. They failed to do this and he took his own life. A correctional officer was placed on paid administrative leave.
Ms Franco and community organizers have heard reports from inside the prison that a correctional officer did not complete his mandated rounds on the night of her son’s death as well.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak last March, community members and organizers have repeatedly called on the state to reduce the prison population and to address unsanitary and abusive conditions that pre-existed the pandemic but have worsened since Covid shutdowns. Protests against the prison began last March and escalated last December when 95% of the Maximum Security prison contracted COVID-19. Six medical students and professionals from the collective Code Black were arrested blocking the road outside former Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s house at a Decarcerate NOW vigil for Jeffrey Washington, who passed in RIDOC custody due to COVID-19.
Organizers have pointed to a discrepancy between prison policies and conditions reported by incarcerated people and their loved ones, as well as a lack of accountability around negligence and abuse by correctional officers and medical staff. Incarcerated people and family members have reported denial of life-sustaining medications by medical staff; correctional officers failing to wear masks and maintain social distance; prisoners being harshly disciplined and put into segregation for attempting to clean cells and phone stalls; and correctional officers placing Covid-negative prisoners in exposure to Covid-positive individuals. Incarcerated people routinely report experiencing humiliation and physical abuse at the hands of correctional officers.
The Decarcerate NOW Coalition is calling on the state to:
- Halt arrests and grant personal recognizance and bail to reduce the numbers of people at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI). Hundreds are currently incarcerated for parole and probation violations or awaiting trial.
- Restore good time and grant parole wherever possible to reduce the existing prison population.
- End 23+ hour lockdown and fully restore programming, visitation, and access to the outdoors. In order to limit the use of segregation, incarcerated people must be provided adequate PPE; prisoners testing positive and negative cannot be placed in contact with one another; and correctional officers must be held accountable around social distancing and mask wearing.
- Provide transparency and accountability to incarcerated people’s families. Create an external oversight board with incarcerated people and their families that can address prisoner grievances, including reports of correctional staff abuse.
- Redistribute tax dollars that are funding correctional officer salaries towards reentry supports for formerly incarcerated people.
In a letter sent January 2021, Zackary Alvarado, who is incarcerated in the Maximum Security facility, writes:
“This place can break a man’s spirit with the things that are seen and have to be endured. Many people here just give up, men that are going to be leaving here with hate in their hearts because of what this place does to you. When someone is actually treated like an animal they may actually become that…
“I have been judged by the courts and sentenced. I am now a ward of the state but my incarceration feels like a battle. I have seen many give up and check out early (suicide). I have seen many become abused and just accept it because that is the culture here, your life does not matter to the RIDOC. As for my time here I will continue to do all I can to be a better man regardless of what the DOC throws at me.”
Zackary is 25 years old and has served six years of a 35 year sentence.
The last person to speak before the march began was Douglas, from Black and Pink Providence.